In Dreams That Die, John Wight describes his move from Scotland to Hollywood in 2000 hoping to make it as a screenwriter, working as an extra, double, and security to pay the rent. He soon crashed up against the vicious Hollywood caste system and its often ritualized and systematic abuse. Those at the top demand to be treated as deities, and are surrounded by sycophants. People on movie sets scream abuse at those of lesser rank and think themselves clever for making the lives of others miserable. Much of what they do wouldn’t be tolerated in the business world. Wight didn’t take it and got fired more than once for punching out particularly repellent individuals.
Do you take abuse, sometimes for years, in hopes of someday making it big in the very same system that is abusing you now? And if you do make it big, will you turn into just another asshole like the ones who abuse you now? That’s the quandary Wight faced as he worked security at big clubs, mansions, and continued working as an extra, then a double. He chronicles it well, with stories and vignettes about life scuffling in LA, Even when he was doing elite security, he was still just the hired help, subject to insults and abuse from self-important jerks, legends in their own minds, because Wight barred them from entry to something.
Then 9/11 happened, and everything changed, including Wight’s direction. He joined the ANSWER Coalition, immersed himself in the antiwar movement in Los Angeles, found kindred souls, camaraderie, and the satisfaction of working hard to make something meaningful happen. I was a member of ANSWER too and worked with Wight. For a while it was heady times and downright inspirational. A hard core of about forty of us, gay and straight, widely varied in age, race and class, organized multiple anti-war protests that sometimes drew 50,000-100,000. Palestinians worked next to Jews, 18 year olds worked with organizers old enough to be their grandfathers. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everyone works together.
The more Wight got involved in radical politics, the emptier Hollywood seemed. He describes the process well, using narrative and events to show how he changed. At a critical point, when a script he wrote finally got serious attention, he went to NYC for two weeks to organize for ANSWER. He made his choice. Dreams do die. Maybe that’s so new ones can be born. Maybe the dreams needed to die.
(In the end, we both left ANSWER for the same reason, the leadership wasn’t interested in democracy. However, what ANSWER and all of us accomplished during that time was truly amazing indeed.)